The Church of St. John the Baptist is hardly a remarkable sight as it is squeezed in between behind a row of shops in the Old City marketplace. Only a few decorative stones and a blue-framed picture of St. John’s head relieve its modest frontage. For that reason, the richly decorated interior comes as such a marvelous amazement; undeniably, the green and gold iconostasis inside St. John’s Church is one of the most complex in Jerusalem and the artwork on walls and ceiling is absolutely eye catching.
The most honored site in the church is the grotto. Believed to be part of the home in which John the Baptist was born to Zechariah and Elizabeth, and perhaps even the site of his birth, it was included into the church’s left apse. You reach the crypt by walking through a highly adorned green and gold gate and down a few marble steps. Beneath and around the altar are white marble bas-reliefs illustrating biblical events. On the wall above the crypt and next to the apse is a picture of young John wearing an animal pelt; on the opposite wall is a painting of John’s last moments on earth. A wonderful little museum is located a bit further down that same wall. Pass through the door to see fabulous embroidered vestments, fabulous candlesticks, gold and silver vessels, splendid ancient icons, and the “comunichino”: tongs used for distributing the Holy Communion to people suffering from the plague.
St. John the Baptist Church is definitely one of the churches worth seeking out as it is considered as the oldest church in Jerusalem. The visiting hours are as follows: Monday-Friday 8:00-12:00; 14:30-17:00; Sunday 9:00-12:00; 14:30-17:00 (Saturday closed).
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